Extra radiotherapy ‘boost’ could keep some breast cancers at bay, study says

A consultant studying a mammogram. Credit: PA

Women with certain types of breast cancer may benefit from a radiotherapy “boost” to help keep the disease at bay, a new study suggests.

Researchers found that women with an early form of breast cancer were more likely to stay free of the disease after an extra radiotherapy treatment.

Scientists followed 1,608 women with higher risk ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) from 11 countries, including the UK.

Following surgery, they found that 803 women who received an additional “boost” of radiotherapy at the tumour-removal site had a reduced chance of the cancer coming back to the same place, compared to 805 women who did not.

The study, published in The Lancet, found that 97.1% of women who had the additional treatment were cancer free for at least five years, compared to 92.7% who did not.

However, the women who had the extra treatment were more likely to experience side effects such as skin hardening and breast pain.

Charity Breast Cancer Now has awarded Professor Ian Kunkler and his team at the University of Edinburgh a £79,000 grant so they can continue to monitor the UK trial participants.

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Some 7,000 people are diagnosed with DCIS each year in the UK.

Prof Kunkler, consultant in clinical oncology at the Edinburgh Cancer Centre at the University of Edinburgh, said: “Boost radiation is regularly used to treat women with invasive breast cancer, but this is the first time we’ve been able to demonstrate that it’s an effective treatment for women with higher risk DCIS.

“We’re hugely encouraged by these results and the Breast Cancer Now grant will help us to understand the longer-term impact of the additional radiotherapy so that in the future, patients and clinicians can make an informed decision about whether it is right for them.”

Dr Kotryna Temcinaite, Breast Cancer Now’s senior research communications manager, added: “It’s vital we develop smarter, more effective treatments for people with breast cancer, so it’s incredibly encouraging that research we helped to fund has shown thousands of women with higher risk DCIS could benefit from an extra dose of radiotherapy.

“Breast Cancer Now’s additional funding for this work will mean we can understand the role the radiotherapy boost can play in helping to reduce the risk of cancer returning over a longer period.

“It will also help establish which women will really benefit from the extra treatment so that those who won’t, don’t unnecessarily undergo additional radiotherapy which could impact their quality of life.”